Workers at closing YRC Freight hub took pay cuts, lost vacation time

Chelsey Levingston
Journal News
April 12, 2013

Local YRC Freight workers are angry about the company’s plans to close the West Chester Twp. freight distribution hub after union employees took pay cuts, had the company’s pension contributions reduced, and gave up vacation time under the impression that these concessions would help keep the company running.

“That’s what kept this company open and then they turn around and take your jobs anyway,” said Ron Reece, 50, of Fairfield, the chief union steward for dock employees and a dock worker loading and unloading freight. He’s worked there 17 years.

“They told us if we didn’t take the cuts, they would shut down,” Reece said. The employees “gave up a lot to try to keep their job.”

YRC Freight, a division of Overland Park, Kan.-based company YRC Worldwide, has plans to close in May three U.S. break bulk terminals including the one in Butler County, according to Teamsters Local 100, the union office that represents 279 YRC Freight members here. There are also plans to close 29 end-line terminals nationwide, Teamsters said.

Closing the West Chester Twp. break bulk or distribution center could affect up to 541 union and non-union jobs, the company told the Ohio Office of Workforce Development in March. A mass layoff of that size would be the single biggest blow to Butler County’s economy since the recession started at the end of 2007.

Trucks bring freight to the center, 10074 Princeton Glendale Road, and goods are combined and loaded on trailers for their end destination.

YRC Freight also has an end-line terminal in West Chester, located at 9991 Commerce Park Drive, for trucks to service runs in the Cincinnati region that will stay open, union officials said. The city operation will still receive freight destined for Cincinnati, and collect freight from Cincinnati region customers to distribute nationwide.

The Less-Than-Truckload carrier, one of the nation’s largest, is under financial pressure and has done several downsizings before, industry experts said. YRC Worldwide reported in February the company’s first positive annual operating income in six years. The company had a 2012 annual bottom line loss.

“YRC Freight has proposed a network optimization to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters designed to leverage changing dynamics in the nation’s freight flow and, to the fullest extent possible, preserve and protect jobs in…Ohio and elsewhere,” read a company-provided statement emailed to this newspaper for this article.

“YRC Freight employees have collectively made significant sacrifices to preserve good-paying jobs with great family health care benefits. This network optimization honors those sacrifices by focusing network improvements on efficiency and customer service,” the statement reads. “With the proposed changes, we’re poised to take this company to the next level by targeting market share growth and new customers. Growing the business is good for Ohio YRC Freight employees and YRC Freight employees throughout the nation.”

Company executives are coming today to meet with union leaders at Teamsters’ Cincinnati office.

“This is where we plead our case,” said Butch Lewis, president of Teamsters Local 100.

Then the company and union will hold a hearing on the proposed network changes April 19 in Dallas, Texas.

YRC was formed out of a 2003 merger when Yellow Corp. acquired Roadway Corp., becoming Yellow Roadway Corp.

The Butler County facility on Princeton Glendale Road was originally opened by Roadway Express. The nearby facility facing Commerce Park Drive was formerly a Yellow Corp. owned terminal.

After business declined following the national downturn in the economy in recent years, YRC and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters agreed to a series of concessions affecting pay and pensions. They have a memorandum of understanding through 2015, Lewis said.

Teamsters members nationwide ratified in early 2009 a 10 percent cut on their weekly paychecks and voted again later in 2009 to take another 5 percent cut for a total 15 percent pay cut, according to Teamsters officials. Currently, Teamsters represents 25,000 YRC workers nationally.

The company stopped contributing to the pension fund at one point, and now pays 25 percent of its previous contribution rate, according to Teamsters.

Lewis also said employees who had earned four weeks or more vacation time lost one week.

Rick Bower, 52, of Milford Twp., is a dock worker and alternate union steward at YRC Freight. He’s worked at the freight hub 15 years.

“The thing that I don’t understand at all, no matter what they say, is we were the most profitable terminal they had going for years,” Bower said.

Local YRC Freight employees will have the option to transfer to other locations. In prior downsizings, the company reduced break bulk centers in Columbus, Toledo, Detroit, Mich., and Buffalo, N.Y. Some of those workers transferred to West Chester Twp.

Dock worker Terry Cummins said he transferred to West Chester four years ago from Toledo. He rents a place here, and commutes to Toledo on weekends to see his family.

“When we transferred, we thought it was going to be safe,” said Cummins, 52-years-old.

Cummins came to the Cincinnati area thinking he would work for a few more years and retire at 57. He has worked at YRC and Roadway Express for a total 25 years. But employees said the company raised the retirement age to 65, and employees who retire before that don’t receive a full pension.

“I ain’t chasing freight no more,” Cummins said.

Bob Cuffe, 54, of Colerain Twp. will have been with the company 17 years this August.

“We’re all at the age where nobody wants to hire you,” Cuffe said. “Every interview you go on, nobody wants to hire a 54-year-old.”

They stayed with the job because of the wages and health and retirement benefits. Now they’re wondering how they’ll find new work or sustain themselves during retirement. The jobs available don’t pay as much as this one.

Union steward Reece said, “The way I look at it, they lied, cheated and stole from us.”

Industry experts say without the union’s concessions in recent years, the company could have folded by now.

“The union took those tremendous cuts,” said Charles Clowdis Jr., managing director of transportation advisory services for consulting firm IHS Global Insight. “Yellow still has almost died with the Teamsters’ concessions.”

The company faces major headwinds including a slowly growing economy and lost confidence from customers, Clowdis said.

“There is still a great percentage of the shipping market that does not feel that Yellow is viable for the long term,” he said.

 


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